Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Review: Stray

Princess Aislynn knows all about the curse. Its magic is a part of her, like her awkward nose and thin fingers. It’s also something she can’t control. And girls who can’t control their abilities have a tendency to disappear. So for her own protection, Aislynn is sworn into the Order of Fairy Godmothers where she must spend the rest of her life chaste and devoted to serving another royal family.

Tasked with tending to the sweet, but sheltered Princess Linnea, Aislynn also finds a reluctant friend in the palace gardener, Thackery, who makes no secret of his disdain for her former life. The more time they spend together, though, the more she begins to doubt the rules she has observed so obediently. As Aislynn’s feelings threaten to undo the sacred vows she has taken, she risks not only her own life but Linnea’s as well. With the princess engaged to a devoted follower of The Path, there are some who would do anything to keep Aislynn from straying.

First things first, the cover is really weird right?  Not in a bad way, in a 'what is going on here novel explain it to me' sort of way.  Since I read an e-ARC I'm interested to see how it looks in real life.  Secondly I freely admit that the first part of this book is of more interest to me then the second latter half.  Without spoilers I found Aislynn's life at the Academy and with Linnea to be fascinating and wanted to know more about it.

I felt bad for Aislynn; you could tell from the start that she was so desperate to fit into the life being laid out for her even as she had her doubts.  Seen through her eyes the entire system is horrific.  Truly, utterly horrific.  There's no room for another life--either you marry and uphold the "traditions" or you are regulated to a chaste, loveless life as a "Fairy Godmother".  Want something different?  So sad too bad you're earmarked as an enemy of the state (a "Stray") and condemned as "evil".

Sussman has used the bare bones of fairy tales and crafted an intriguing, disturbing world where who you shouldn't try to be more then you are (men or women).  Women using magic, even in defense of themselves or their loved ones is considered too dangerous to allow.  Men who didn't control their women were just as penalized quite frankly, though not as overtly.  Men who sympathized or aided the "Strays" were hunted and condemned as well.

Its not a great world for anyone with a thought in their head honestly.  This is a book filled with harsh class structures, oppressive societal pressure and worst of all, you can't trust anyone.  Aislynn tries, oh she tries so so hard, to be what everyone wants her to be.  She tries to live the "true path" she tries to fit in and be the perfect devout follower. 

Aislynn's life, both before and after she is condemned to be a Fairy Godmother, at the Academy was of the most interest to me.  Even after she is sent to be a Fairy Godmother Aislynn believes in the Path, which I think illustrated something I think a lot of fantasy books in YA land tend to overlook.  Aislynn didn't get betrayed and suddenly find the light about how wrong her world was, she accepted (if not happily) that what happened to her was part of the culture.  Did she want more?  Sure.  But she thought the "more" could be attained by proving herself ever more devout.  She was a believer and believers need more then a socially approved sanction for misbehavior to break that faith.

Outside of the Academy things get a bit more twisty and I admit I lost some interest.  Josetta and the "Strays" are (of course) not what they appear to be because (of course) propaganda being what it is those in charge didn't want folk thinking there was any alternative to their abusive system.  Not to say either side is completely on the side of Angels, but well one is more right then the other. 

As a subverted fairy tale fantasy this works really well.  Sussman does a good job of taking those pieces and hijacking our expectations.  Often for darker purposes (looking at you Fairy Godmothers...though in truth they always kind of creeped me out), but sometimes to illustrate how our expectations are what really deluded us (a Prince will not always save you for the right reasons...).

Definitely a recommended read and I look forward to seeing what happens next!